Genetic Services Geneticist
What is your role within Acuity?
As a genetic services geneticist, my role within Acuity is to develop new ways to provide genetic improvement to our customers. There are many genetic suppliers within the swine industry that all offer differentiated lines with the hope of providing an economical edge to customers. A part of that process at Acuity is to continually conduct research into new technologies, whether those be new phenotypes, genetic evaluations or breeding schemes. It is my role to evaluate those technologies to continually improve upon our genetic processes at Acuity.
How did you get involved within the swine industry?
As a kid, I would often go to Michigan to visit my grandparents who raised pigs for 4-H and FFA projects. At their height, there were roughly 60 sows which were primarily Durocs. Their interest in youth livestock organizations was imprinted on me at a very young age and led me to showing pigs across the country by the time I reached high school. Through those livestock shows, I had developed a strong interest in pigs, yet I wasn’t sure if I wanted to remain in the show pig arena or transition to swine production.
While completing my undergrad at North Carolina State University, I had the opportunity to spend a summer at The Maschhoffs as an intern. Funny enough, I was selected to be the intern for the genetics department and was encouraged by Clint Schwab and Jocelyn Bishop to take my skills in math and pigs to graduate school to further my education and understanding of genetics. Fast forward 6 years, I now have an MS and Ph.D. in genetics with a focus in swine and work with both Clint and Jocelyn again, still learning and applying new ideas to advance the swine industry.
What did you focus your research on for your Master and Ph.D. degrees?
During my masters degree at North Carolina State University, my research focused on the impact of genetic selection for decreased age at puberty in pigs. I was fortunate and was able to evaluate two different lines which were divergently selected for age at puberty — one for an older gilt at puberty and one for a younger gilt at puberty. The idea was that a decreased age at puberty is an early indicator of how productive a gilt will be throughout her life. We found out that we can successfully select for gilts to have a younger age at puberty, and that they will be more productive as a sow.
For my Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, I shifted gears from evaluating traits that would be interesting candidates for genetic selection to how best to perform genetic selection using maternal and commercial testing herds in swine breeding. Nearly all swine breeding schemes start with making genetic selection on purebred animals in hopes that progress made in the purebred will translate to the terminal crossbred animal. Through this line of research, I was able to evaluate many strategies for improving the rate of genetic progress and the realized improvement in terminal crossbred animals. Key to implementing this line of research is the use of testing herds which Acuity has access to via a partnership with The Maschhoffs.
How are you bringing those learnings to Acuity?
It’s no secret that Acuity’s partnership with The Maschhoffs to develop and run the commercial test herd is key in the success of our Duroc. I am excited to bring my experience and knowledge from my Ph.D. research to practice in our Commercial Test Herd system. While in Nebraska, I spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to maximize the impact of a Commercial Test Herd to the rest of the genetic program using computer simulations. Now, in my new role at Acuity, I can be a part of the team that takes my Ph.D. research from theory to practice.
What key takeaways do you have from your first 6 months in your role?
My first few months at Acuity have led to three big takeaways:
- Graduate school doesn’t teach you everything. I have learned more from the Acuity team in 6 months than arguably my 6 years in graduate school. The wealth of knowledge that the Acuity team has continues to impress me.
- Acuity being acquired by STgenetics appears to be a great match. While Acuity was owned by The Maschhoffs there was a high priority on innovation, research and adoption of new technologies. With ST, that mind set is prevalent, if not heightened. In a more technology driven industry, the need and desire to innovate is key to long term success, which is something that ST has demonstrated.
There is still a lot of promise and excitement in the swine industry. The creation of Acuity is testament to that. In a more mature space such as the swine genetics world, there are still great advancements to be made and the team at Acuity is determined to play a part.
That’s an easy one — the people. As an intern 6 years ago, I was blown away by the genetics group at The Maschhoffs. Then, 6 months ago, as I began to look for a job, I was again blown away by the group at Acuity, many of which were involved with the genetics program when I was an intern.
I have never been a part of a group who believes as much as those at Acuity in their purpose and genetic product.
With a group of people who actively collaborate and strive to innovate in their respective fields, I felt that Acuity had the potential to make a real difference in the swine industry for years to come, and I wanted to play a part in that future.
How do you see the future of the Fast Genetics / Acuity collaboration impacting the swine industry?
The collaboration between Fast Genetics and Acuity, I think, brings a great disruptive force to the swine industry. Prior to our collaboration, Fast Genetics and Acuity operated largely in different parts of North America and placed different emphasis on the breeding objectives of our nucleus lines. Together we can provide a more comprehensive portfolio of genetic solutions to swine producers in a larger area than before.
In addition to this, the teams at Fast Genetics and Acuity are both extremely talented and eager to learn from each other. In the future, I see this dynamic leading to more diverse ideas on how to improve our products and participate in larger discussions around genetic improvement. The ability to have larger discussions regarding new technologies and avenues to increase genetic progress becomes increasingly important to ensure that both Acuity and Fast Genetics are making the best decisions, not only for the future of our lines, but for our customers’ long-term success.